Wandering with my eyes and heart open, searching for pieces to add to my own personal big picture.

Category: Creative Nonfiction Page 2 of 3

My own stories, unrelated to my reading.

High School Did Not Help Me Make Decisions as an Adult

Confession: Ever since high school I have been hoping that someone would tell me what to do next.

Graduating high school, relieved.
Spring 1991

I was a good student in high school. I got decent grades in most classes. I kept on top of my work. For the most part, I did so by simply showing up and writing things down. It wasn’t that I was an exceptional scholar or was particularly interested in the subjects. I had simply discovered that if showed up every day, on time, wrote down when things were due, and made an attempt to finish the assignment, I passed my classes.

At one point in a history class, I realized that I didn’t have to read the whole chapter or really understand what was happening to pass the tests. I only had to have a general idea of the dates we were talking about and scan the chapter titles and headlines because that’s what would be on the test. As soon as the test was over, I forgot all about the material. Science was about the same.

English was the same class I’d been taking since the sixth grade. Once we learned to read, which I don’t remember, I feel like I always knew how to read, we just went over more and more grammar rules and sometimes read a book and did a book report. All through high school I waited for the change to literature and creative writing, but it never came. Well into my senior year, I was amazed that we were still talking about nouns, verbs, and paragraphs.

Spanish was rough. I was required to take two years of a foreign language to graduate, and Spanish seemed logical. Growing up in Southern California, most people speak some Spanish. I hear it all day, every day. You’d think it would have been easier for me to pick it up, but I never did. I understand some and have a few words and phrases, but never did well in the classes at all. Honestly, I think it was because serious study doesn’t come naturally to me. I never learned how because I rarely needed to.

All my “electives” were theater related and those were simple. Memorizing scripts and blocking, designing, and building sets, were fun for me and I spent all my waking hours in the theater until my senior year when I started working at Disneyland at night.

Four years of high schooled marched by. Every year I had limited choices as to what I could take and when. I had to be there five days a week and I had to take 6 classes a semester. Most of those were required classes, some were chosen electives. All of them were strictly guided and had little self-direction, critical thinking, or logic. I showed up. I turned in my assigned work. I did my time. And graduation loomed ahead. The final threshold into the “real world.”

The REAL world, people! From my work at the mall and then at Disneyland, being around college kids and working adults all through the summer before and during my senior year of high school, I was starting to get the feeling that the REAL world was nothing like my school world and that the skills I was using here were not going to translate out there.

After high school at university.
Fall 1991

I had no real urge to go to college but ended up enrolling anyway because everyone else was. School counselors didn’t give you any options other than which college to go to. The school I chose wasn’t a local community college, it was a private university in the next county, far enough away from home to have to find a place to live away from my parents. It never occurred to me, and no one in financial aid brought it up, how I was going to pay for my education or whether I should.

How did I find this school? My high school theater class took a tour there when the university had a theater competition for high school students. I entered a set design I had done and won first place. I had been acting in competitions like this for the last four years and had never gotten past the first round. This was the first time set design and playwriting were offered as divisions. Stage design and painting had been my real love of the theater the whole time but there were no strictly stagecraft classes. You had to take acting or general theater, which meant some acting, to be able to work on the lights, sound, and sets, so I did. I was ecstatic when I found out I could enter as a designer. And then I won! First place…of three entries, but still. I got a thousand dollar “scholarship” too if I went to that university.

I fell in love with that school the moment we drove up in the school bus. It looked like a small version of an ivy league type school right out of the movies to me. And it wasn’t that far from home. I was never a very adventurous kid. Even though I hadn’t really considered going to college before, the moment I saw it and then went around their tiny theater department, I started having visions of me attending and becoming a famous designer on Broadway. When I won the award, I was sure this was the path for me.

I spent the next few months catching up. It was already early spring and everyone else had been working on college prep since the tenth grade. I hadn’t even taken the SAT’s. I remember signing up and taking the test, doing ok, but I can’t remember what my scores were. I applied at the school and was accepted and sent to financial aid to work out the details. I had to have my mom apply for a parent loan, which I was sure she couldn’t afford. Then I applied for the student loan. That’s when I realized how much the school was going to cost me.

Seventeen thousand dollars. Per year. And I had been so excited to get that $1000 scholarship. Financial aid assured me there would be other grants and scholarships available. I only needed to apply and wait. Meanwhile, I signed up for the classes and got my student loan for the first year. The other grants and scholarships never came, and I was on the hook for that $17K when I graduated or quit school, which was what ended up happening a year and a half later.

Overloaded trying to work and go to university full time in two different counties, I looked at the costs of continuing and what I would get from it and decided it would be irresponsible to keep spending money on an education that wasn’t going to get me a better stagehand job than the one I already had. Besides, I wasn’t doing very well academically anyway. It turns out that university classes take a bit more thought and time than high school classes and I couldn’t keep up while working for my living and at the school’s theater. I dropped my remaining classes, got an apartment close to work, and hoped to start working fulltime. Six months later, I started paying on those student loans. I started adult life at 20 years old, $24K in debt with a part time job as a seasonal stagehand at an amusement park.

That’s the moment I stopped looking for someone to tell me what to do in life and started making my own choices based on my own needs and my own thinking. It was terrifying but liberating. At first, I felt like I was failing at life completely. I couldn’t hack university life, dropped out, and now here I was.

Looking back, it was the best decision I could have made. The work I wanted to do didn’t really require a degree. It required knowhow and contacts. I already had my foot in the door where I wanted to be, and I was gaining the knowhow every day I worked with new people that knew more than I did. It didn’t make any sense to keep racking up debt the way I was.

If I could change one thing about the end of high school, it would be to find someone that would actually help me make better decisions and plans for myself instead of steering me into what they believed was my best course of action. I needed more support getting to know myself and what I wanted from life those four years, not following someone else’s curriculum. I spent those years bored and waiting for life to begin and it really sucked.

Were You Allowed to Use Curse Words At Home Growing Up?

In stark contrast to my own children’s early lives, when I was growing up, curse words were not allowed. It didn’t matter how old you were, if your parent or grandparent was around, you’d get smacked for it. If your parent wasn’t around, it was open season. My grandma would smack my mom for bad words as quick as my mom would smack me, but it didn’t stop any of us from using them. The truth is, colorful expletives are useful, right? They express passion. Life just isn’t the same without either. Like I used to my tell my sons, you just have to know your audience to avoid being smacked.

I was probably about ten years old the first time I used a curse word in front of my mother, and I’ll never forget it.

Baking cookies is an excuse to use curse words?
Photo by Pam Menegakis on Unsplash

My mom and I loved to make chocolate chip cookies, and I can still see that kitchen in my mind. The windows, crisscrossed with wooden trim painted white, yellow kitchen curtains over the sink. And that lovely yellow and brown linoleum floor, the avocado green fridge and oven. What year is it? I know you know.

That oven was something special to me. There were two of them stacked one on top of the other in the corner of the kitchen. Next to it was an island with an electric stovetop to match. All in avocado green and chrome. I don’t think I’ve ever had two ovens like that again. Although sometimes I could have really used it!

Making cookies with my mom on a Saturday afternoon sounds so cliché, doesn’t it? It’s like a scene right out of a Hallmark Channel movie. Young, pretty mom with her long brown hair and big glasses, polyester slacks, and blue eye shadow. Honestly, I always thought my mom was the prettiest mom around. She was funny and boisterous, always had lots of friends. I watched her closely and envied a personality that could so easily greet people and make friends.

Most weekends my mom and stepdad had parties with their friends, playing cards and talking well into the night. You’d think I’d look back on it as a bad time, my parents were distracted partying with their friends and not taking care of us, but it didn’t feel like that to me. I was always enamored with them. I wondered what they were talking and laughing so loud about and would sneak out of my room, long after I was supposed to be asleep, creep down the hall toward the living room and listen. It sounded like fun, grown up fun that I wanted to be a part of.

Sometimes my mom would let me help mix and serve drinks before I went to bed. I felt so grown up. But after bedtime, I wasn’t supposed to come out of my room. I was too old to need my mom in the middle of the night. If got caught in the hall, I just said I was going to the bathroom or feign sleepwalking and my mom would just turn me toward my room and tell me to go back to bed.

I’d reluctantly return, feeling left out of all the fun. I climbed back in my twin bed, dressed in my long, little girl nightgown and lay there wondering what could possibly be so funny. I hear my stepdad singing silly songs, my mom groaning about putting down the wrong card, her friends picking teams for the next round of spades. It seemed like a grown-up mystery.

But Saturday mornings were for fun and I looked forward to it every week. We’d bake sweet bread and cookies mostly. Chocolate chip cookies were my personal favorite, not only because I loved them, but everyone else did too and we’d race to see who could eat the most. With four people living in the house and friends coming for cards in the evening, we had to make a lot of cookies to keep up with demand.

My job was to read the recipe and get out all the things we would need. I’d get the recipe card out of the metal paisley covered recipe box and lay it down on the counter. My grandma wrote this one out (off of a Nestle chocolate chip package I later learned). Her perfectly feminine cursive always impressed me. The delicate, evenly formed, precise loops. The gentle pressure of the pen. The clear lettering with no flourishes. It was serious and concise writing. Getting work done writing. Just like my grandma. Gentle yet serious. Hard but very loving. She didn’t need to get angry about anything. She didn’t need to scold, much. We all just felt compelled by her strength of character to behave.

I can recognize her handwriting the moment I see it and still have a few of those cards tucked away in that same metal box.

Setting the plastic wrapped card on the counter, I started to read it aloud: eggs, sugar, vanilla, salt, flour. I’d get everything out and place it on the counter next to the recipe. I’d get the bowls, the big one and small one. The measuring spoons and cups. And place them on the counter too. Then I’d watch my mom go into action.

While she got the mixer out and plugged it in, she’d ask me to help by measuring the flour, salt, and baking powder into the small bowl. She’d put the butter and vanilla in the big bowl and start whipping it with the mixer. As she softened the butter, I would ask questions like, “Can I taste it now?” and hear, “Not yet.” At least a dozen times.

I’d pour in the sugars as she kept whipping the butter, and then the eggs, one at a time. When it was soft and fluffy, the beaters stopped, I got a chance to stick my finger in the mixture and taste it as she cleaned off the beaters. She would turn to see me licking my finger and scowl at me. “Not yet silly!” and I’d laugh.

My Mom would take the big bowl into her arms and I would slowly add the flour mixture to it as she stirred, one scoop at a time until the cookie dough was good and thick. Setting the bowl down to get the chocolate chips, I’d reach in a grab a pinch of dough. “There won’t be any left to bake if you keep doing that.” She’d admonish me, laughing at my antics. “Tastes like cookies!” I’d squeal.

Two scoops of chocolate chips went in next, minus the ones I stole when my mom wasn’t looking. I’d beg to be let to help stir them in only to give up seconds later and let her finish.

The big cookie sheet came out next, discolored and warped with age. Set out on the counter, it was my job to fill them with cookie dough balls! After having my own children “help” me in the kitchen, I have a better picture of what my work looked like to my Mom. Irregular shaped ball of dough in various sizes, scattered across the cookie sheet!

“All done?”

“Yep.”

And she’d open the oven, slide the sheet of deliciousness in and set the timer. Then we’d clean up a bit, putting away the ingredients and washing off the utensils.

It felt like forever had passed and I was a least a year older when the timer bell rang from the kitchen windowsill. Yes! Cookie time!

My mom had her hands in the sink, up to her elbows in soapy water. “Can you use the hot pad and get those out yourself?”

She couldn’t be talking to me. I looked at her incredulously. “You’re big enough. Be careful though. Don’t burn yourself.”

To a kid, being entrusted with any responsibility, any task usually relegated to adults, was a huge step up in life. The moment an adult talked to you as if you were their helper and not someone in the way, you felt taller and more noble. Someone had opened the door and said “Welcome!”

I tentatively picked up the hot pad glove and put it on. “Hurry up, sweetheart. They’ll burn. Careful. The edge is hot too.”

I opened the oven, reached toward the pan of deliciously brown cookies, caught hold of the edge and began to pull them out oh so carefully. As I did, my arm brushed against the side of the oven and I instinctively jerked my arm back, dropping the cookie sheet onto to the open oven door, yelping, “Shit!”

I stopped dead in my tracks and looked at my Mom. I had startled her, and she came running over to help.

“Are you ok?” pulling my arm out to see the damage.

“Yes.” I said, with tears and not a little bit of fear.

She pulled my face up to look at her, “Don’t worry. Shit is exactly right. I would have said a lot worse.” Kissing me on my forehead, “Go put some cold water on it.”

The relationship between my Mom and I changed that day, all because of the use of curse words. She was no longer just my Mom, the dinner maker, keeper of the rules, and laundry washer. She was my friend. My mom was a person, just like me.

We finished baking several sheets of cookies without further burns. Many pinches of dough were stolen between sets. And once they were all done baking, we got a big glass of milk and set to making ourselves sick eating what was left with the help of my little brother and stepdad.

Three Personal Favorite Awkward Disneyland Miscommunications

Everyone that knows me will tell you that I’ll jump on any opportunity to share my stories from the years I worked at Disneyland when I was in high school and college. This scene The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson made me smile and start to reminisce. Strange to think this story is from a park very much like mine, Elias Disney did work there, and 100 years before I was donning a costume and facing the crowds. Some things never change!

“The fair was so big, so beyond grasp, that the Columbian Guards found themselves hammered with questions. It was a disease, rhetorical smallpox, and every visitor exhibited it in some degree. The Guards answered the same questions over and over, and the questions came fast, often with an accusatory edge. Some questions were just odd.

‘In which building is the pope?’ one woman asked. She was overheard by writer Teresa Dean, who wrote a daily column from the fair.

‘The pope is not here, madame,’ the guard said.

‘Where is he?’

‘In Italy, Europe, madame.’

The woman frowned. ‘Which way is that?’

Convinced now that the woman was joking, the guard cheerfully quipped, ‘Three blocks under the lagoon.’

She said, ‘How do I get there?’”

The devil in the white city by Erik larson

And now I present to you, brought up from the deep well of my teenage memory banks, a few of my favorite interactions with guests during my time at Disneyland: Tomorrowland in the early 90s.

Scene One:

Disneyland Captain EO 1990

Imagine, if you will, a turnstile and podium, a young girl smilingly holding a pair of pale purple 3D glasses toward a park guest, filled with enthusiasm as they approach. He looks at her, looks past her, looks to both sides of her, and then asks:

“What time is the next show?”

This may have been nearly the thousandth time she has heard this question today. Her youth and experience have caused her to become impatient with this guest. Without missing a beat or a ghost of a frown, she looks up at the tv screen above her head, reads the countdown clock, and returns, “Twelve Minutes.”

The guest, more aware than most, laughs at himself. “Duh! I missed it!” Sheepishly takes the proffered glasses and enters with three young children in tow.

Scene Two:

Disneyland Tomorrowland 1990

I walk the slow-moving circular path that continually rolls beneath me. The cars, connecting with the turntable on their return, open their doors and the peaceful guests, disgorged, move toward the exit stairs and disappear below.

The same cars continue around the turntable to pick up more guests for the next trip around Tomorrowland’s attractions. The guests climbing the stairs, step onto the moving floor, walk towards the open doors and climb inside…usually.

Sometimes they wait. They wait at the step-off for the floor to stop for them. Some stand on one foot and carefully step forward with the other, and when they step down forget to lift the foot they were standing on and are slowly, very slowly, pulled into a split. Still others have no problem leaving the platform for the moving floor. They walk to the car waiting with the open doors and then wait for the car to stop so they can get in.

Throughout the day, I hear quippy things like, “I bet you get your exercise every day!” And my very favorite, “How fast does this ride go?” As if they haven’t watched it trundle by all over Tomorrowland, or for the past ten minutes as they waited in line to board. Occasionally, I can’t help but smile and respond, “I keep telling them to add seatbelts. We lose people every day” as I point to the empty cars returning from the track.

Scene Three:

Space Mountain. Winter 1991. I’m standing at the bottom of the ramp that takes the guests up to the concourse area to continue their wait until launch time. This is my favorite position, to be totally honest. It’s the most relaxed and I get the chance to talk to more people. We chat about their day, answer questions, and make jokes. Most questions are about the wait and what kind of a ride it is. Since I’m in an easily accessed space, surrounded by guests either entering the cue or walking toward another, I get other questions like, “Where is?” and “What time?” Those are understandable.

Sometimes guests ask if I like my job, and if I have fun while I work. The answer is yes, always. I loved that job. I’d waited impatiently until the day I turned 16, so I could get a driver’s license. The moment I was able, I drove my little ’79 Datsun 210 down Ball Road, turned left at Harbor Blvd., and right into the employee parking lot. I marched straight into the (then) Admin building, picked up an application and filled it out on the umbrella covered picnic tables out front, and returning it immediately.

I still remember my first interview. I remember the cast member dismissing the other two candidates, and, once we were alone, asking me where I wanted to work. I know…it sounds corny, and I took a lot of crap for it over the years about how much I loved that job and Disneyland. I cannot lie. It was all I ever wanted as a kid and, as far as I was concerned, the day I put the parking lot sticker on my car, I was home. Nothing else mattered. I had arrived!

I cannot remember a bad day at work in Disneyland, ever. If circumstances had not changed things, I would have continued working right there for the rest of my life, completely happy. Things happened, life changed, and it was still good, probably even better than I could ever have planned, but I still get nostalgic and wonder what that life would have been like. Time machine, please! Or at least the ability to explore other timelines! But I digress!

Where were we before I became transported?

Oh, yes! BOTR (bottom of the ramp) Space Mountain!

Yours truly in my Disneyland Space Mountain costume.

Bundled up in a coat, scarf, and two pairs of gloves in the plummeting temperatures, nearly 60 degrees, like only a California native can, the evening wears on. The crowds aren’t so crazy as they are in summer, but something about a Saturday evening draws more people out and the queue up the ramp to the concourse is a steady stream of happy guests.

A co-hostess has come to send me on to the next position in the rotation, indoor time! I was just about getting a chill! I’m chatting away for a moment before I go when a gentleman taps me on the shoulder to get my attention. I turn and smile as he asks, “When to the fireworks start?”

Without hesitation I reply, “Around Memorial Day weekend!”

His face drops into a frown as he throws back, “Oh, very funny smart ass.” And walks away.

Some of you reading this won’t understand for a couple of reasons. Depending on your age, or if you’ve never been to the park, you don’t remember a time when Disneyland did not run a nightly fireworks display over Sleeping Beauty’s Castle every night of the year. Here’s where I come in with the cliché, “When I was a kid…!” remark, but it’s true. I swear.

When I was kid the fireworks at Disneyland only ran during the summer months, between Memorial Day and Labor Day. It was a special event, reserved for that high point of any park’s year, the summer tourist months when the park was open late every night and was packed full of families on the biggest vacation of their lives.

When the guest asked “When?”, I assumed he meant what time of year, honestly! I felt terrible that I had misunderstood, to make things worse he walked away so quickly that I couldn’t explain. But therein lies the trouble with the English language, right? To be more precise he should have asked, “What time do the fireworks start?” But “when” would have worked just as well, if it had been the time of year when there are fireworks.

What’s funny to me is that I’ve spent thirty years holding on to that story. It was funny to me, the misunderstanding, but that poor man thought I was being rude and trying to make him look stupid. I felt bad. That’s a testament to how much I value people’s (even complete strangers) opinions of me and my behavior, but that’s blog post of another color.

I have a lot more stories about Disneyland, just ask my friends and family. They’ve heard them all, probably a multitude of times. I love telling my Disneyland stories. I’m not ashamed. I wait eagerly for when I have new people to tell, maybe I get to see my future grandchildren roll their eyes and make excuses to escape as I re-tell of the glory days. But for now, this blog and you, my dear readers, will have to be my outlet.

Thanks for reading, watch your step as you exit the open doors on your right, and enjoy the rest of your day at the Tragic, I mean, Magic Kingdom!

Feeling Nostalgic in a Good Way: Wait For It

I’ve been feeling nostalgic this morning and I had the most wonderful idea about what to write about! I’ve been excitedly working on it, but it isn’t finished and I have unfortunately run out of time.

Feeling nostalgic about where it all began today.

I’ll keep working on it and polishing it over the weekend in the hopes of getting it to you on Monday afternoon, or possibly Tuesday. I just don’t want to rush it. It’s too precious.

While reading “The Devil in the White City” this morning, I came across a few lines that triggered some of the most beautiful memories for me.

“The fair was so big, so beyond grasp, that the Columbian Guards found themselves hammered with questions. It was a disease, rhetorical smallpox, and every visitor exhibited it in some degree. The Guards answered the same questions over and over, and the questions came fast, often with an accusatory edge. Some questions were just odd.
‘In which building is the pope?’ one woman asked. She was overheard by writer Teresa Dean, who wrote a daily column from the fair.
‘The pope is not here, madame,’ the guard said.
‘Where is he?’
‘In Italy, Europe, madame.’
The woman frowned. ‘Which way is that?’
Convinced now that the woman was joking, the guard cheerfully quipped, ‘Three blocks under the lagoon.’
She said, ‘How do I get there?’”

The Devil in the white city by erik larson

I shut the book right there and started writing. My whole morning was lost to memories of my teenage years, a good amount of nostalgic tears, and a conversation with my son and a friend, in which I made them cry too, but I believe I’m on to a pretty nice post to share with you all next week.

I hope you’ll bear with me and wait. My reading and writing time is up for today and I must attend to my housekeeping and social duties.

See you soon, I promise!

The picture above and this post, Old Posts Make Me Smile, will give you a clue as to where I am in my mind today.

Join Me in my Adventure to Wallow in Some Self Pity!

I think treating self pity as just another emotion to jump in and swim around in a while is a practice of good self care. Come on! It’ll be fun. Really!

Self pity medicine. Otter Pops for grown ups: Cosmopolitan Vodka Martini
These usually cheer me up on a warm afternoon!

“I had every intention of writing this morning, I swear, but here I am again with nothing to say. That’s a lie. I do have things to say, plenty of them. I’m just not sure how or, more importantly, why I should say them.”

Me this morning

Yeah, I’m pretty far out in the deep end these days. I just can’t seem to get a grip on it. I’m going to stick with the swimming pool analogy for a moment.

Emotions are like swimming pools. I have several and some of them have very deep ends, so deep you can have a good, high diving board. My pools have nice steps to get out at the shallow end, and some have ladders to climb out at the deep end. Some. There’s the trouble.

Some of those deeper pools are hard to get out of. You have to want to and have the strength to get out on your own or have a friend available to lend a hand. At the moment, I have none of those things, so I’ve decided to float a bit instead of struggle to tread water. I’m conserving my energy until I find a solution.

Besides, I kinda like here right now.

Yes, I’m well aware that everyone’s world has changed. I know everyone struggles. I’m not alone in anything here. But this story isn’t about everyone. It’s about this girl, so come swim with me!

Things I’m considering:

  1. Daily routines…boring…what can I do?
  2. Writing. Should I quit? No. Writing things like this helps me think. It’s word therapy.
  3. Blogging. What to do here? Posting every day is a lot. Maybe I should adjust that. Or maybe give up blogging all together?

Something that I’m pondering on:

A friend of mine just told me (this morning, no kidding), “No one is going to come knocking on your door and ask you to be friends.” I told him that I’d rather just stay locked in my house and yard.

That’s me in a nutshell. “Help! I’m in a nutshell! How did I get in here?!”

I’m just not sure where to go from here, so for now, I float and rest.

Going back to the post Why DO I write here anyway? was a good idea. This feeling of self pity is a recurring cycle of self-doubt. I’ll be back again…and in great numbers!

Developing New Habits: Using Prompts as a Writing Session Warm Up

I love developing new habits, especially good ones that make me feel like I’m getting somewhere. I have found that I’m a naturally habitual person, so if I can make one little change in my routine stick for a few weeks, I have a very hard time letting it go. I have to be careful though, I can easily make myself crazy with habits. Ok, crazier!

This new habit is writing related! Yay!

I’ve been wanting to write more fiction, but I find it difficult to get started, and then more difficult to stick with a story longer than a day or two. My current writing practice is to use quotes from the books I read as writing prompts, write for thirty minutes, edit the thirty minutes I did the day previous, and then post them. It reflects my attention span, for sure.

A couple of times last year, I was able to get my brain to move in one direction for nearly a week and was very happy with the stories I was able to cobble together. I want more of that! Come on brain! Work with me!

I went looking for prompts and found Reedsy! I haven’t submitted any stories yet, since today was my first day of this new habit, but I’m totally going to. This might be just the sort of spontaneous publicity this girl needs!

As a teaser…I know you’re going to love this…this is what I came up with this morning.

On my side, long pillow tucked under my arm and a knee up, fetal position. Feather blanket and heavy quilt in disarray, one foot partially out from underneath. The perfect temperature.

The cat, perched up on my shoulder, purring away.

I lay there, still, awake but not moving. It’s dark, very dark.

What was I dreaming about? Something disturbing. That recurring one where I’m trying to explain something, and no one understands. No, they aren’t listening, and I get louder and more insistent until I’m screaming insults and epithets in a desperate attempt to get their attention. Blank stares, as if I’m not there at all and then suddenly, comprehension, and anguish in every face. They’re destroyed by my words, pushing away from me in pain. I wake from this dream often, several times a month, not with a start or tears, just quiet and helpless resignation, a deep and still sadness, wishing I could take my words back, wanting the ability to be quiet.

I lay there another minute. I’m warm. I’m safe. It was just a dream.

Then that feeling comes as I lay there waking up…I should get up. I have things to do. Places to be. I can’t be late. What time is it? I carefully crane my neck to see the red numerals of my clock at the foot of my bed. Without my glasses, my sleepy eyes can’t quite make out what it reads. The cat complains of my movement. I’m disturbing his sleeping place. I lay my head back down.

That’s all I have time for this morning. I have a breakfast date with a hot babe! But I’m looking forward to working on this and adding more. Will I actually submit something? I hope so!

I have written some stories in the past. I keep them collected on my Short Stories Page. If you like any of them, please share!

Can Becoming More Self Aware Help Us Find Our Ideal Climate?

This post, my dear friends, is not about books. It’s about my other favorite subject, people. I’ll share something with you, a secret. I’m a little insecure around people. Maybe I’m a little TOO self aware in the wrong direction? I worry too much about what people think of me to be comfortable being me. But I find them fascinating and I want to be close to others, to understand them better. Or, maybe, I just want to feel like I belong, but my insecurities tend to win more and more these days. I’m having a harder time going out there and I find myself studying them from afar.

Self aware avocados?
Photo by René Cadenas on Unsplash
Photo by René Cadenas on Unsplash

I have a couple of friends that feel the same way. They are far more formally educated than I am. When we get together for coffee or a desert walk, we talk a lot. We think, “If only we could harness this social energy. We may solve the world’s problems!”

Last week, we talked for over four hours after the subject of fruit trees was fully covered. You see, she planted two small avocado trees in her backyard. She knows I have a few established fruit trees and asked me to take a look at hers and see if I could tell why they weren’t doing well. I didn’t have to look at them. They won’t survive. They’re in the wrong environment.

It was hard to tell her that. She had worked so hard on keeping them alive. She’d brought them up from another friend’s house where they had grown from seeds to four foot tall saplings in large pots. She planted them in the yard, making sure they had plenty of room to grow, sun, and water. She’d even gotten some plant food for them. But they still won’t survive for very long.

I was uncomfortable because I couldn’t find a gentle way to tell her. I tried the “shit sandwich” plan, telling her what a good job she had done and all that. They were still alive but not for long and that she should transplant them somewhere else and they would do fine. She was determined to give it a try though, disappointed I didn’t believe she could do it.

Why am I so sure they won’t survive? Because we live in the high desert. The air is dry. The ground is sand and rock. The summers far too hot and the winters far too cold. There are things you could do to keep the tree alive. It may grow, but it won’t thrive or bear fruit. This is not it’s climate.

The next day, while I was out watering my own fruit trees (an apple and cherry tree, stone fruits do much better here if you protect them), I started thinking again about how plants are a lot like people. I must have talked about that before, right?

I have written about it! “Take Care of Yourself” and “Feeling a Tad Crazy?” Both posts need updating…ugg…more work to do.

Certain kinds of people naturally thrive in certain climates. Introverts and extroverts, academics and creatives, winter people and summer, beach bums and mountain lovers. We all have our ideal climate where we thrive best and produce the sweetest fruits. We can adapt, that’s true. But, ideally, shouldn’t we all be searching out the environment that best suits us?

I’ve spent all my life searching out the environments where I grow best. I’m still learning. And I’m evolving, as well. Environments that we perfect for me when I was twenty don’t have the same effect now that I’m almost fifty. And some days I need to have more quiet than others.

What if we stopped trying to grow tropical plants in the desert and cacti in the swamp? We could be using our energy more efficiently if we stopped forcing ourselves and others to grow in climates that don’t suit our needs?

A Walking Meditation with a Friend Invites Our Minds to Slow Down

The clouds of a storm being pushed through the pass and spreading out over the desert. Like the walking meditation, the wide open space slows the storm down.
A storm being pushed through the pass and spreading out over the desert.

When you think of a walking meditation, you probably think of being alone with your thoughts, quiet contemplation, and frequent stops to just take a deep breath. Mine are something quite different.

I’m a noticer. Go for a walk with me anywhere and you’ll see it. Even in my own neighborhood, I walk along excitedly pointing out plants, animals, clouds, and…ideas. When I have things on my mind, which is always, walking helps me sort it out.

I don’t like to walk alone.

It’s the talking that I need, getting out of the metal loop. I need that the other human that will listen and bounce things back at me.

Yesterday I walked with a friend. We took “the longer route” around the neighborhood. I had things to sort out, conflict that need to be looked at and resolved.

We headed north down the dirt road. I pointed out the place where it floods every time it rains a lot, the kind of mud that you can’t drive through because the tires slip every which way in it when you attempt to climb the driveway. And it reminded me of the track my sons raced at that had that terrible river silt mud that would slip out from under your feet or get so deep it would suck your shoes off.

We met the dogs at the end of the road and I predicted their behavior. The one leaping and barking like she’ll eat you. Rottweilers seem so vicious behind a fence, like Cerberus guarding the gates of hell, until you’re invited inside, and they commence to loving you. The older Australian Shepard runs the length of the fence, chases her tail, runs back, chases again, barking the whole time. The two will get into skirmishes about who is doing a better job and chasing off the intruders, while two goats stand watching and wondering what all the excitement is about.

Making another turn, we find the abandoned razor scooter that has been laying there for several years. I still wonder how it got there. It’s a dirt road full of sandy ruts, not the place some kid would be riding it, accidently leaving it behind.

Dogs bark behind every fence we pass, rural alarm dogs. They warn us that someone is approaching the house, but it’s usually coyotes they are barking at. After a while, every owner knows the different barks. The visitor at the door, delivery truck, large bird, invading dog, coyote, all their barks are distinct. They’ve been doing that job long before surveillance cameras.

We keep walking and talking.

When one part of my brain is busy keeping my feet going in one direction, noticing and identifying all the mundane things around me, another part of me begins to relax and open up. Then I start to talk, ask questions, and listen to answers. My emotions take a slower, more regulated pace so that I can identify them and sort them out, then I can begin to respond instead of react to the things I’m feeling.

It’s a long walking meditation where the good stuff starts to happen.

The same part of me that makes me jump from the car screaming “Real prairie dogs!” is the same part that makes me scream, “You’re not the boss of me!” and “This is the worst day ever!”

Most people don’t tell you to tone your joyous reactions down. Some do, trust me. I’ve heard them. “You’re making us look bad, Michelle. Can’t you settle down?” “Try not to be too enthusiastic. It’s hard to keep up.” They are few and far between, but I know they are still out there. I see them at the grocery store when my sons and I are getting loud about the cost of an item or that there are no Vege Tables (more like Vege Stacks, my son says).

Almost anyone will tell you tone down your anger, frustration, or sadness.

They don’t want to see that part of you. And why is that? Why do we label one emotion as good and the other as bad? Why can’t I say, “I’m sad today and the whole world sucks ass!” without someone saying, “Don’t act like that!”?

I feel like I’ve spent my whole life being told that some emotions are negative and should be avoided. The result of that has been me not knowing what to do with those emotions. Like a small child with no place for the big emotions to go, I end up having a tantrum, yelling, and looking for ways to hurt others the same way I’m hurting.

“I need attention! Help me with this feeling!” I feel myself yelling in my head. What I get in return is a time-out. I’m left alone to deal with those feelings, and nothing gets resolved. I only hurt in quiet or lash out in anger for being a human being.

I don’t blame the people around me for doing it. We don’t know any other way. This is the way we raise our children, and this is the adult behavior we get from it. You end up being good at being alone with your “bad” feelings, avoid them, or start using coping mechanisms to deal with it. None of them are healthy.

Raising my own children through Peaceful Parenting methods (and I can hear people that know me laughing at ME using the word “peaceful”) helped me notice where I lacked in relating to other people. Finding Radical Unschooling, helped me learn new ways of learning. Both approaches to raising children have changed how I develop my adult relationships.

Michelle, you’re doing it again. What does this have to do with going for a walk with a friend?

Everything! Walking with my family is the way we made time and space for the big emotions that lead to the deep conversations and connections. The longer and easier the walk the better. Now that my children are grown and on their own, I’m more focused on my adult relationships and that’s where the walking meditation comes in.

I’ve been doing it for years, but this past weekend is when I noticed the connection. We had a lot on our minds to talk about but never found the time. We’re always doing something or going somewhere. I instinctively asked for a long walk and while we were walking, it dawned on me what was happening and now I can use the process deliberately.

When I ask a friend to go hiking with me, I’m asking them to make time and space for connection. I’m saying, “Let’s talk. I know we all have things we need to get off our minds.” It’s better than a cup of coffee or a few beers. It’s focused “us” time with a bonus of exercise!

Hot Tip: If there’s some reason you can’t walk; weather, health, etc., try a driving tour. It works the same way.

Do You Need a “Productive” Day of Rest?

A productive day of rest, picture of a desert picnic.

Monday is usually my most productive day of the week, but this one is different.

It’s the Monday after a glorious outdoor Sunday morning, an afternoon of rousing and hilarious games of pool and several shots of tequila, a Taco Bell dinner (because dammit the taco fries are back), and half a movie on the couch before I fell asleep.

I had planned on a productive day around the house. I had every intention of being a “productive” blogger type person today, but I’m not being lazy.

I’m thinking.

Recently, I ditched all the socials, as you might know, starting with Facebook. I didn’t miss it. Then I stopped looking at Instagram for a month. Then disabled it. But this past week, I began to miss it. Why? Is it just habit? Or something else?

You know what I think? I think, the way things are around here, I need that small connection with mostly strangers. I need a place to say, “Hey, look at this!” Or “Damn I’m happy (or sad)!”

I enjoy seeing the pictures there, the deep thoughts, the jokes (dirty or otherwise). It’s seeing other people’s view point of view, like hanging out at party or working a job with interesting people I can “turn off” if I want to. The bottom line is…I need some people.

I don’t need a lot of people. I don’t need constant contact or a boatload of friends to invite over. Maybe all I really need a small outlet, some folks to show off for. It’s the extrovert side of me, the explorer side seeking a platform to be seen and heard.

I like having the ability to share the wonder I see in the world around me. Is that so bad? I’m searching for new connections with other fascinated souls. Will I find it there? Or is there somewhere else?

But now, here I am, several hours into the day, thinking, “Did I just waste that time? Could I have been more productive with that hour?” Possibly, but then, maybe not. Maybe this is what I needed today.

Why do the Cat and Dog Wake Me Up to do This?

Cat and dog sleeping on the couch.

Ahh…the cat and dog post! I know. It’s not about books, but is about life and I was reading a book when I took the picture. So…RELATED! Besides, who doesn’t love a cat and dog post?!

These two heathens wake me up every morning at 4:30 AM. The dog sleeps under my bed all night. The cat sleeps on my shoulder or at my feet. They hear my husband get up for work and within an hour they begin to insist that I get up as well.

The cat follows me to the bathroom, refuses to leave and then meows to get out as soon as I shut the door. The dog waits by my bedroom door.

I come into the kitchen led by the cat just out of foots reach in front of me. The dog is waiting by her food dish, impatiently whining and stepping in the bowl as if I might forget where her food goes. As I put some food in he bowl, the cat waits by his on top of the freezer. It may have food in it already, but you know cats. That’s yesterdays food that he demanded be put in the bowl. I sprinkle a few bits on top to “freshen” it and he digs in.

A grab my book, a drink of water, and then a big cup of coffee and plop myself on the couch. Within a few minutes, the beasts are beside me, snuggling down and then…fast asleep.

What the heck?! Why did I need to be up so you could eat and go back to sleep? What kind of a life do these animals have? Why are they so tired?

I do find a little joy in disturbing THEIR peace throughout the morning by getting up to get another cup of coffee or to use the bathroom. Then I need my other book. I dropped my pencil and move the blanket to find it. It’s the evil side of me coming out. You beastly things disturbed my sleep. Turnabout is fair play!

It turns out that I’ve written about my furry friends before. Click over to “Why I Get Up -Episode 5” to read more about this cat!


Pet lovers! I just found Chewy (late to the game, sorry) and because they’re so awesome, I want to share it with you. I used to get pet food on Amazon but we live rural and they don’t deliver to the house. I did some poking around the interwebs to explore other options and found that Chewy is generally cheaper AND they deliver to the house. Win! And, no, I’m not paid to advertise. I just like them!

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